We constantly move our eyes to gather important information from our surroundings. By measuring eye movements, we can gain insight into how this information is processed. Previous research has shown that the introduction of new visual information results in a specific pattern of eye movements. Specifically, two types of visual processing can be identified. In the so-called “ambient mode,” the eyes move quickly over large distances to quickly gain a rough idea of potential targets of interest.
This mode is thus used for general spatial orientation. Once this process is finished, the eyes will focus on specific information for a longer period of time, and process it more deeply, based on the target and the level of interest. This is referred to as the “focus mode.” Up until now, these changes in gaze patterns have mainly been observed in response to changes in the environment or external stimuli.
In a recent study by the Chair of Engineering Psychology at TU Dresden, Sebastian Pannasch and his team have now investigated the extent to which such patterns also occur as a result of internal stimuli. For this purpose, the test subjects were asked to solve a task on a computer screen in which they had to assemble a Rubik’s cube according to a model so that all sides corresponded exactly to the model specifications. The external stimulus, i.e., the setting on the screen and the task, remained the same.
Evaluation of the measured eye movements showed that the environmental mode for reorientation always occurred when information was taken in during different subtasks of the puzzle, e.g., when a puzzle piece was selected or checked to see if it matched the specification.
For Sebastian Pannasch, professor of engineering psychology and applied cognitive research at Technische Universität Dresden, the new findings are promising: “Our results show that the eyes are not only a proverbial mirror of the soul, but actually and measurably provide information about what we are currently engaged in and what goals we are pursuing within a task. Eye movements could be an indicator of the state of attention during task processing. In further studies, we will therefore investigate whether these new findings can be used to organize screen work.”
Reference: “Eye movement patterns in complex tasks: Characteristics of ambient and focal processing” by Yuxuan Guo, Jens R. Helmert, Sven-Thomas Graupner and Sebastian Pannasch, 9 November 2022, PLOS One.